Press Box: St. Louis should replace Rams with MLS franchise

Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune

NFL owners voted Tuesday to allow the Rams to relocate to Los Angeles, from whence they came in 1994. I’ll admit, when the news broke, I was a little more bummed than I expected to be. I had assumed for years the Rams’ relocation was inevitable, and I thought I had done all my grieving and moved on already. Still, when it actually happened, it stung. It kind of felt like getting dumped by a girlfriend I didn’t even know I had.

Worry not, this is not another overwrought column about my tumultuous two decades as a Rams fan. Save that last paragraph, I’ve already used this platform to say all I need to say about the situation.

But you’re not going to escape this column without a hot STL sports take.

Some have called for the city to attempt to seduce another NFL team. No. Don’t do that. Mayor Francis Slay said he didn’t want St. Louis to pursue another team, and if the mayor is willing to cut his losses, then so should everyone else.

The only scenario in which I think St. Louis should host another pro football team is if cities finally realize how much of a scam publicly funded stadiums are and force owners to foot the bills themselves. I’d be fine with that, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon — which is probably good thing, as the burn of losing a second NFL franchise will take a while to heal.

So now what? Should St. Louis just sit and be content with its status as a two-team town? That wouldn’t be the worst thing. I believe St. Louis, though it probably could support a third team if the circumstances were right, will be perfectly happy with just the Cardinals and Blues.

But I do believe there’s a void in the St. Louis sports landscape, and no, it’s not an NBA team.

Soccer.

Bring soccer, specifically the MLS, to St. Louis.

There are so many reasons why this should work.

While I’m not exactly in favor of the city paying for any new stadium, building a cheaper MLS stadium will probably look attractive to St. Louisans if only because it’ll be so much cheaper than the proposed NFL riverfront stadium.

And while I don’t condone the city making financial decisions in order to ensure moral victories, I can’t deny that getting an MLS team would be one after losing the Rams.

But mostly, St. Louis has the history to make soccer successful. Its youth soccer culture is incredibly vibrant, with a large Catholic population feeding youngsters into parochial leagues.

What’s more, St. Louis’ Bosnian community is bigger than that of any other city in America, and it’s crazy for soccer. As someone who attended the Bosnia-Argentina soccer friendly at Busch Stadium in 2013, I can attest. The blue-and-yellow frenzy of pregame tailgating was more energetic than anything I’d ever seen outside a Rams game.

And as Sporting KC has shown, soccer can work in Missouri. (OK, they technically play in Kansas City, Kansas. But still.) I’m not well-read on my Kansas City history, but I’d bet that St. Louis had more of a soccer background than Kansas City in 1995, when the MLS first arrived in the form of the Wiz.

In fact, St. Louis neighborhood The Hill accounted for five of the 11 players on the 1950 U.S. World Cup team, which beat England 1-0 in an all-time upset. (Rent “The Game of Their Lives” from your local Blockbuster if you didn’t know that already.)

The biggest obstacle to getting the MLS to St. Louis has been the question of where to put them. The MLS is looking to expand, and as multiple MLS owners recently told Sports Illustrated, the Gateway City is at or near the top of that list. But the hypothetical team — I propose naming them the St. Louis Spirit, in honor of the Charles Lindbergh plane and the defunct ABA team — needs a place to play. And although Busch is a cool place to watch a soccer game, it’s not going to work as a permanent venue.

So yeah, the stadium thing is a problem. As is the issue of who has deep enough pockets to head the cause. But with the NFL (hopefully) out of the picture, now seems as good a time as any to start solving those problems.

Plus, if the MLS comes to town, St. Louis can still say it technically has a pro football team.

Take that, Kroenke.

Original: http://www.newstribune.com/news/2016/jan/17/press-box-st-louis-should-replace-rams-mls-franchi/

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